The melting Arctic is like ‘discovering a new Africa’ – by Leslie Shaffer (CNBC – November 12, 2015)

Governments and the private sector are positioning to develop the Arctic, where the wealth of resources is akin to a “new Africa,” according to Iceland’s president.

The melting of the Arctic is an ongoing phenomenon: In October, about 7.7 million square kilometers (about 3 million square miles) of Arctic sea ice remained, around 1.2 million square kilometers less than the average from 1981-2010, according to calculations by Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis that was published by researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

One effect of the melting ice has been newly opened sea passages and fresh access to resources.

“Until 20 or so years ago, (the Arctic) was completely unknown and unmarked territory,” Iceland’s President Olafur Grimsson told an Arctic Circle Forum in Singapore on Thursday. “It is as if Africa suddenly appeared on our radar screen.”

Grimsson cited resources that included rare metals and minerals, oil and gas, as well as “extraordinarily rich” renewable energy sources such as geothermal and wind power.

Developing the Arctic to access these resources “doesn’t only have grave consequences,” he said, noting that shipping companies had found new, faster sea routes through the area. Grimsson cited Cosco’s trial Northern sea journey a couple years ago with a container ship, which was able to travel from Singapore to Rotterdam in 10 fewer days than the normal route, saving on fuel and other costs.

China’s state-owned Cosco announced last month that it would begin a regular route through the Arctic Ocean to Europe.
Major investors are already eyeing the Arctic.

“The average economic annual rate of growth in the Arctic region is the highest in the world relative to any country or any economy,” Scott Minerd, a managing partner at Guggenheim Partners, said at the forum. Guggenheim manages more than $240 billion.

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